Kata Thinking

Kata Thinking, a structured approach to continuous improvement, involves the Improvement and Coaching Katas. Improvement Kata follows steps of understanding challenges, setting target conditions, experimenting, and iterating. Coaching Kata guides individuals. The PDCA cycle, tools like 5 Whys, A3 Problem Solving, and Value Stream Mapping enhance learning, innovation. Examples span manufacturing, healthcare, software development.

Understanding Kata Thinking

The term “kata” in Japanese refers to a form or pattern that is practiced repeatedly to master a skill. In the context of kata thinking, it represents a structured routine or practice that helps individuals and teams develop and improve their problem-solving and continuous improvement abilities.

Kata thinking is based on the idea that achieving excellence in any endeavor requires deliberate practice and continuous learning. It provides a framework for developing the skills and mindset necessary to excel in various aspects of work and life.

Key Concepts of Kata Thinking

1. Improvement Kata (IK)

The Improvement Kata is the core practice of kata thinking. It involves a structured routine for addressing challenges, setting goals, experimenting with solutions, and learning from the results. The steps of the Improvement Kata include:

  • Understand the Current Condition: Start by thoroughly understanding the current state of affairs or the problem you are facing. This involves gathering data, observing processes, and identifying issues.
  • Establish the Target Condition: Define a specific and measurable target condition or goal that represents an improvement over the current state. This target should be challenging but achievable.
  • Plan the Next Steps: Develop a plan for achieving the target condition. This plan may involve small, incremental changes and experiments aimed at making progress.
  • Execute the Plan: Implement the planned changes and experiments in a controlled and systematic manner. Collect data and closely monitor the effects of the changes.
  • Reflect and Learn: After executing the plan, reflect on the results and the learning gained from the process. What worked? What didn’t? What did you learn about the problem and potential solutions?
  • Iterate and Repeat: Use the insights gained from the reflection to refine the plan and continue working toward the target condition. The process becomes a cycle of continuous improvement.

2. Coaching Kata (CK)

The Coaching Kata complements the Improvement Kata by providing a structured approach for leaders or coaches to support individuals and teams in their improvement efforts. The key elements of the Coaching Kata include:

  • Grasp the Current Situation: Coaches must understand the current capabilities, knowledge, and challenges faced by the learner or team. This involves asking questions, actively listening, and observing.
  • Challenge and Develop Thinking: Coaches are responsible for challenging the thinking and problem-solving abilities of learners. They do this by asking open-ended questions that encourage learners to explore options and consider alternatives.
  • Set a Target Condition: Coaches work with learners to establish a clear target condition that aligns with organizational goals and objectives.
  • Develop a Plan: Together, the coach and learner develop a plan for achieving the target condition. The coach supports the learner in identifying potential experiments and actions.
  • Implement the Plan: The learner executes the plan, and the coach provides guidance and support as needed.
  • Reflect and Learn: After the experiment is complete, the coach and learner reflect on the outcomes and learning. This reflection informs the next steps in the improvement process.

Principles of Kata Thinking

Kata thinking is guided by several fundamental principles:

1. Scientific Thinking

At its core, kata thinking is a scientific approach to problem-solving and improvement. It encourages individuals to form hypotheses, conduct experiments, gather data, and learn from the results. This scientific mindset promotes evidence-based decision-making and continuous learning.

2. Respect for People

Kata thinking places a strong emphasis on respecting the knowledge and capabilities of individuals at all levels of an organization. It recognizes that those closest to the work often have valuable insights and ideas for improvement.

3. Small Steps and Rapid Learning

Kata thinking advocates for taking small, manageable steps when working toward a target condition. By breaking down larger goals into smaller, more achievable milestones, individuals and teams can make progress more effectively and learn from each step.

4. Continuous Coaching and Improvement

The coaching aspect of kata thinking is critical for providing guidance, support, and feedback to learners. Continuous coaching helps individuals develop their problem-solving skills and fosters a culture of improvement.

Practical Applications of Kata Thinking

Kata thinking can be applied in various settings and industries. Here are some practical applications:

1. Manufacturing

Kata thinking has deep roots in the manufacturing sector, particularly within the lean manufacturing and Toyota Production System (TPS) frameworks. It is used to improve processes, reduce waste, and enhance quality. Teams in manufacturing facilities often engage in daily improvement kata to address production challenges and make incremental enhancements.

2. Healthcare

Kata thinking has gained traction in healthcare organizations to improve patient care, enhance operational efficiency, and reduce medical errors. Healthcare professionals use the improvement kata to address clinical processes and develop solutions for better patient outcomes.

3. Software Development

In the world of software development, kata thinking can be applied to address coding challenges, optimize development processes, and enhance software quality. Teams may engage in coding kata to practice and refine their coding skills.

4. Education

Kata thinking can be incorporated into educational settings to promote problem-solving skills and critical thinking among students. Teachers can use coaching kata techniques to guide students through the process of tackling complex problems and learning from their experiences.

5. Service Industries

Service-oriented organizations, such as banks, restaurants, and retail stores, can implement kata thinking to improve customer service, streamline operations, and enhance employee engagement. The principles of kata thinking can help identify and address service-related challenges.

Challenges and Considerations

While kata thinking offers significant benefits, it is not without challenges:

1. Cultural Shift

Adopting kata thinking often requires a cultural shift within an organization. It may take time for individuals and teams to embrace the principles of scientific thinking and continuous improvement fully.

2. Coaching Skills

Effective coaching is essential for the success of kata thinking. Organizations must invest in developing coaching skills among leaders and managers to support their teams effectively.

3. Integration

Integrating kata thinking into existing processes and workflows can be a complex endeavor. Organizations must ensure that kata practices align with their broader strategic objectives.

4. Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a common challenge when introducing kata thinking. Some individuals may be hesitant to adopt new problem-solving methods or may fear that kata thinking will disrupt established routines.

Examples of Kata Thinking

Kata Thinking can be applied across various industries and domains. Here are some real-world examples of its application:

1. Manufacturing

In the manufacturing sector, Kata Thinking is applied to improve production processes, reduce defects, optimize workflows, and enhance overall operational efficiency. By following the Improvement Kata, manufacturers continuously seek ways to refine their processes and achieve higher quality outputs.

2. Healthcare

Kata Thinking plays a significant role in healthcare by enhancing patient care, streamlining administrative tasks, and improving hospital workflows. Healthcare professionals utilize the Improvement Kata to address challenges related to patient safety, treatment protocols, and operational efficiency.

3. Software Development

In the realm of software development, Kata Thinking helps development teams identify and address bottlenecks, improve development processes, and enhance software quality. By applying Kata Thinking principles, software developers continuously refine their coding practices and project management approaches.

Key Takeaways

  • Kata Thinking is a systematic approach to continuous improvement that involves two key components: the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata.
  • The Improvement Kata is a structured routine for problem-solving and experimentation, employing a series of steps to define challenges, analyze current conditions, set target conditions, experiment, and iterate.
  • The Coaching Kata supports individuals in effectively practicing the Improvement Kata, providing guidance and encouragement. The PDCA cycle, a core element of Kata Thinking, ensures iterative improvement.
  • The approach fosters a culture of learning, innovation, and problem-solving and is supported by tools like the 5 Whys, A3 Problem Solving, and Value Stream Mapping.
  • Real-world examples showcase its application in manufacturing, healthcare, and software development

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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